Denis Villeneuve's Dune Has Changed The Opening Of The Sci-Fi Epic, And It's Awesome

Zendaya as Chani in Dune

As the third live-action adaptation of Frank Herbert’s beloved sci-fi epic, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune exists in an interesting space. On the one hand, a blockbuster version of the story has never been given the kind of resources that this production has utilized, and any fan will hope that those resources allow it to be as faithful to the source material as possible. On the other hand, there is no pretending that the David Lynch-directed 1984 film and the Sci Fi Channel miniseries from 2000 don’t exist, so there is a certain motivation for the latest version to make certain changes that allow it to be distinct and not a simple copy-paste job. Those are two diametrically opposed ideas, but are weirdly important in equal measure.

How Denis Villeneuve’s Dune will operate in that atmosphere is one of the most interesting questions looming over the film as we get closer and closer to its October release – but this week fans can get a fascinating glimpse at exactly how it is all going to work. A special IMAX preview event is being held in theaters around the country, and one of the most exciting aspects of the footage is the way in which it suggests the project’s approach to adaptation. Two extended sequences are shown, and while the second does a spectacular job bringing to life one of the most exciting scenes in the novel, it is preceded by an early look at the movie’s first 10 minutes, and those 10 minutes feature some excellent original scenes.

Fans of Frank Herbert’s novel may go into Dune expecting that the film will open with the familiar introduction to Paul Atreides, featuring the scene where the fortitude of the protagonist is assessed via the painful Gom Jabbar Test Of Humanity, but instead the new adaptation opens with a key perspective change. It’s not Timothee Chalamet’s Paul who welcomes viewers into the story, but instead Zendaya’s Chani. The character narrates a prologue sequence set on the desert planet of Arrakis, detailing how the Fremen (the natives of Arrakis) have long been exploited by outsiders who arrive to harvest the vital Spice Melange – ravaging the land and enacting cruelty on the people in the process. These “outsiders,” of course, are the members of House Harkonnen, represented on the ground by the brutal Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista), and their strength is mighty, though that doesn’t stop the Fremen from fighting back against the armored guards and machinery via guerilla assaults.

The prologue ends as Chani witnesses the departure of the Harkonnens from Arrakis, a result of an imperial decree, but there is no celebration, as she merely questions the motivations behind the move and who their “next oppressors will be.”

It is only after this scene that we first meet Paul Atreides, who wakes from dreaming of Chani and sits down for breakfast with his mother, Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica – who uses the opportunity to prepare her son for the day and further his Bene Gesserit training (specifically by practicing the will-changing power known as The Voice). Paul follows the meal with a quick study session in his room, learning about the planet in his mysterious dreams, and then he joins the rest of his family and their loyal vassals to welcome a herald from Emperor Shaddam IV, who arrives to declare that House Atreides will become the new controllers of spice harvesting operations on Arrakis.

The changed approach is interesting for multiple reasons. For starters, it provides the movie with an opportunity to introduce Chani much earlier in the story – a character who doesn’t really become prominent until the second half of the book (don’t forget that this movie is set to primarily focus on the first half). Establishing her as a prominent figure early in the film feels like a smart call, especially because Zendaya has described her part in the blockbuster as “small.”

What’s far more significant, however, is the extra emphasis that the prologue puts on the Fremen perspective. Divorced of events that play out in Frank Herbert’s sequels, there are certain “white savior” elements in Dune that one would hope any modern adaptation would attempt to keep in check, and what’s featured in the first 10 minutes feels like a good sign. It’s unclear how much more of that we’ll actually get to see in the movie, as there is limited interaction between the Fremen and House Atreides in the first half of the book, but that only serves to increase curiosity about the film.

And while the opening scenes are definitely a departure of sorts from the source material, purists need not be overly concerned. As noted, the IMAX preview of the first 10 minutes is followed by another extended sequence – specifically the scene where Paul joins his father Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), and Dr. Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) to watch a spice harvesting operation. As is depicted in the book, the simple surveillance winds up turning into a rescue mission, as a massive Sandworm comes barreling toward the location and normal safety procedures fail. It all plays out exactly as one imagines it while reading the novel, and it’s exhilarating.

If you’re curiosity is now piqued, the great news is that you can check out all of this material for yourself – along with an early look at the new trailer and a conversation between Denis Villeneuve and composer Hans Zimmer. The IMAX event is now being held around the country, and you can visit the official website to find a location near you. And if you can’t make it to one of the footage presentations, the good news is that the wait for Dune gets shorter every day.

Featuring a spectacularly talented cast that includes Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem, Dune will be in theaters and streaming on HBO Max starting October 22. To check out all of the other films set to be released between now and the end of the year, check out our 2021 Movie Release Schedule.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.